01 Sep 2012


Markets’ Moral Limits


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Economics has lately “wandered” from its traditional study of phenomena such as business cycles and is now about commoditization, incentives, and “principles by which people make decisions,” declared Harvard government professor and ethicist Michael Sandel, author of What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. At an HBS panel discussion in April with University Professor Rebecca Henderson and HBS associate professor Karthik Ramanna, Sandel said that “the buying and selling of a non-material good changes its meaning.” For example, the purchase of blood, instead of reliance on donations, affects social attitudes about altruism. And since markets may not be the best allocators of goods “on grounds of either efficiency or fairness,” Sandel called for broad debate on “where markets belong, and where they don’t.”

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